Preseason Top 16: #7 Western Michigan
The Broncos overcame a bit of a slow start (4-4-2 in their first 10 games) in the CCHA to finish in a tie for second in the CCHA regular season and then capped it off with a CCHA tournament championship. As a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament Western lost their opening game to North Dakota.
It was the best of times….
Western tied and won in a home and home against Ferris State to move into that second place tie in the CCHA, then swept Lake State in the first round of the CCHA playoffs before very convincing 5-2 and 6-2 wins over Miami and Michigan in the tournament semifinals and championship.
It was the worst of times…
After the Broncos started 4-0-1 in the CCHA they lost four games in a row, one to Michigan and Notre Dame and two to Michigan State. They then tied their next game against the Irish and sat 4-4-2 in the league.
The Coach - Andy Murray
Murray enters his second year at Western Michigan, and will hope to provide some continuity after Jeff Blashill left for an assistant coaching position with the Red Wings after just one year on the bench at Western. Murray has of course had success at other levels, previously serving as the head coach of the LA Kings and St. Louis Blues.
Notable Current NHL Alumni
Players to watch
Western Michigan brings back talent at all three levels of the ice, and no player will get more attention than Junior defenseman Dan DeKeyser. DeKeyser stands 6'3", 186 pounds with room to fill out and although he can move the puck well and has a good shot, he is great in his own zone and uses both his stick and his body well. All 30 NHL teams lined up to take a crack at him in free agency last summer and likely will do again after this season.
Another defenseman who has gotten a lot of ink is Garrett Haar. The California native had a bit of a whirlwind recruitment but has surprised at the development camp of the Washington Capitals, who took him in the 7th round in 2011. He is a smaller guy who, though he only had 8 points as a Freshman, has some offensive upside and has a shot to make this year's WJC team.
Up front, Dane Walters was second in the CCHA in goals per game last season behind only Miami's Reilly Smith, and thus obviously is the league's leading returning goal scorer. He is lauded for his grit and his work ethic and other nebulous terms that people love to throw about when talking about a guy who is just 6', 185 lbs, but Walters has talent as well, and has gotten better each season.
Although Walters led the team in scoring last year, the most known player up front is probably Chase Balisy. Balisy is another California native who found his way to Kalamazoo, and he has back to back 30 point seasons under his belt for the Broncos. The 2011 6th round pick of the Predators does not have a tool that immediately jumps out, but he plays with a lot more substance than flash, makes the smart play, and has played in a lot of different situations at Western Michigan because of that.
It is a really small class for the Broncos this year, and they bring in all forwards:
Josh Pitt ('92) had 36 goals in 59 CCHL games last season, and with his size and strength will probably be more of a bottom 6 guy who adds grit and ability in his own zone.
Colton Hargrove ('92) was taken by the Bruins in the 7th round of the 2012 draft, and like Pitt he is less of a goal scorer and more of a guy who will be a bottom 6 type player, at least to start. He had 16 goals for Fargo (USHL) last year.
Nolan LaPorte ('92) had 36 goals Green Bay (USHL) last year, and seems the most likely of the recruits to step right into a top 6 role.
Austin Hervey ('92) is a local kid who played with Kalamazoo (NAHL) last year, scoring 6 goals in 31 games. He was a bit more of a fighter in Juniors, and at 6'1", 220 lbs he will add some size and strength.
Non conference series to watch:
Western Michigan is the fourth team in the GLI this year, making it an all Michigan affair. They'll play Michigan State in the opener and then either Michigan or Michigan Tech in the championship or third place game. The GLI will be played outside for the first time ever this year, taking place at Comerica Park.
The Broncos are ranked a bit higher in this poll than in most others, and that is largely due to the continuity. They have an elite player in DeKeyser, and now the experience of making the NCAA Tournament in back to back seasons. Although they have not grabbed a win either season, that streak should end this year and the Broncos have a very good chance at making the Frozen Four.